It was far from pretty. It became far too close for comfort near the end. But the Seattle Seahawks advanced to the NFC Championship game with a 23-15 win over the New Orleans Saints that came as a result of the two things Seattle does best: defense and running the ball.
As has been the case multiple times this season, Seattle’s tremendous defense was enough to overcome a sluggish offense. New Orleans gained 409 yards, over twice the amount they did against Seattle back in December and 132 more than Seattle this game. The key was that the Seahawks completely stymied the Saints in the first half to take a sizeable lead and stopped New Orleans in a couple of important situations.
Drew Brees had just 34 passing yards at halftime, his fewest as a member of the Saints. He would come roaring back in the fourth quarter to finish with 309 yards, but Seattle’s 16-0 lead at the break proved to be just large enough. Michael Bennett also forced and recovered a fumble, the only turnover of the game, on the first play of the second quarter to set up Seattle’s offense with a short field for its first touchdown of the game.
On two separate occasions, early in the first quarter and late in the fourth, the Seahawks stopped long Saints’ drives to force field goal attempts. Shayne Graham missed both kicks in the difficult weather conditions, which made a big difference by the end of the game.
For all that was made about how the Seahawks would stop Jimmy Graham without K.J. Wright, the star tight end was even quieter this time with one catch for eight yards, which came with under a minute remaining. The Seahawks knocked Graham around and threw several different looks at him, leading to just six targets the entire game.
The Saints came in to CenturyLink and tried to be the tougher team, starting with a pregame fracas between Graham and Bruce Irvin. New Orleans knocked Percy Harvin out of the game on two separate occasions. But the Seahawks’ physicality was too much for the Saints to overcome. The lasting image of this game will be Earl Thomas jumping over Graham to knock away a pass in the fourth quarter.
Offensively, this game was all about Marshawn Lynch, who ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 28 punishing carries. That was over half of Seattle’s offensive production for the game. Lynch had not run for over 100 yards since Nov. 10 against the Atlanta Falcons.
Overall, the Seahawks averaged five yards per carry on 35 attempts, which is the kind of success they will need to continue in order to win the NFC Championship Game and possibly the Super Bowl.
Russell Wilson didn’t do much to alleviate any concerns about the Seahawks’ offense. He was more of a game manager than anything, finishing 9/18 for 103 yards. At the very least, Wilson didn’t make any major mistakes and hit Doug Baldwin for 24 yards on a critical third down with under four minutes remaining, withstanding a heavy Saints’ blitz in the process.
The Seahawks and Wilson will need to be more explosive in the passing game to beat the San Francisco 49ers next week. But they can challenge any team with Lynch playing at a high level and this caliber of physical defense.
Photo Credit: Elaine Thompson / Associated Press
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